I have the following problem. I play tennis if this is helpful, but i think this is more a psychology thing. I often do not play at 100% effort.

This is in the training as well in the real game. All the time I play in the "energy-saving" mode, move the least amount to just to be able to hit the ball. If focus on given 100% i move much better, play much better balls and is just a whole other level of tennis, but 5sec later when I don't focus on this actively again, I just went back to 70%.

I just recognized that I do this in almost all tasks, also not tennis related. Jogging on the treadmill is great because there I can set a pace and I am forced to run at the 100% effort speed. But when there is no external gatekeeper I always return.

What can I do? How can i train this, that my body stops the energy saving mode and I do things at 100% without actively focusing on this.

  • if this is the wrong place where is better place to ask? Fitness.SE?
    – unhappy101
    Jun 8, 2020 at 17:14
  • 2
    Hi, welcome to the site. I think this is probably on topic; I can't say why it was downvoted. The way you asked it might lead to people thinking it's off topic as you mention things other than sports, but I don't see why the sports element of the question (which is where you came up with this idea from) wouldn't be on topic. That said, this could be a Psychology & Neuroscience question perhaps, or yes, Physical Fitness would probably consider this relevant also.
    – Joe
    Jun 8, 2020 at 18:22

3 Answers 3


Playing at 100% effort all the time is not something anyone does, ever. Watch soccer (non-US: football) players. Are they going at 100%? Only if they have a scoring chance, or are defending a scoring chance, for the most part. Playing at full speed in soccer means you're basically sprinting, and who can sprint for 90 minutes (or even 45)?

Mental effort, or attention, is a mental version of physical exertion, and it requires the same kind of careful management. You can spend 100% of currently available attention all the time, but then you run out. Instead, players typically marshal that attention the same way they marshal their physical exertion: pay close attention when in a crucial scoring chance, pay less attention when well off the ball.

None of this is to say that improving your mental abilities isn't impossible; some of that comes with simply playing more and expending that full effort sometimes, just as with improving your cardiovascular endurance or your muscle strength. You can do mental exercises; some are going to be sport specific - search for your sport and "focus drills" or "mental toughness drills" - while some will be more general in nature.

For the most part I'd recommend starting with the sport-specific ones, as you need different things in different sports - Soccer and Tennis are very different, for example.

But the main thing I think here is that you shouldn't consider yourself a bad person because you can't focus 100% all of the time - you're no different from anyone else there. How many Grand Slams would Serena Williams have if she could give 100% every play, every day? LeBron James can't give 100% on every play, either, and while he gets a ton of flak when he does take a play off, it hasn't hurt him too much. Play at the intensity you're able to, and turn it up to 100% in those times where you need it - during that scoring chance or that critical defensive chance, when you need the extra energy.

  • 1
    I think this depends a bit on which sport you're talking about - in the 100m sprint, you better be giving 100% from the moment the gun goes until you cross the finish line, in more endurance sports, whether that be soccer or a marathon, you're correct you can't give 100% all the time. In the middle are "explosive" sports like say American football or volleyball where you do need to be giving 100% every time you're involved in the action, but do get breaks between those plays/points. Not quite sure where tennis falls on that spectrum.
    – Philip Kendall
    Jun 9, 2020 at 8:12

It is an interesting question and I think that it probably relates to the way your mind works(since you mentioned that it applies to things outside of tennis/sport as well).

But keep in mind that effort can be measured in absolute terms as well as relative terms, so giving 100% of what you know is possible versus what you think is possible will actually tend to push the boundary of what is achievable over time (take the 4 minute mile for example).

I have played tennis competitively in the past as well, and I think that your hitting partner and trainer contribute a lot to your attitudes in practice and during the match. When you are playing with someone who is better than you it can provide the hunger to try and catch up to that person. The same applies when you play someone who is almost at your level because you want to stay ahead of them. Often having the right mix of opponents can go a long way towards pushing you to achieve more.

Having said that, when you are on the court, there are definitely techniques that you can practice to learn how to concentrate better (so you are close to 100% mentally) but these are just like your tennis playing techniques in that they need to be learnt and practiced (and tailored to your individual needs) for them to be effective.

The other thing to consider is the actual tactics that you apply on the court against an opponent. Often it is worthwhile saving some energy if you are expecting a long match, and it is also a strategy that can help you gain an advantage if applied correctly. Basically you want to play just at the level that allows you to edge out your opponent, but also able to take your game up another gear if required rather than playing flat out all the time.


Some people talk about how there are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. I think that sports utilize and require a mix of the two. Tennis is a sport where I think that an intrinsic motivation to win is important to have and that is what can push you to play at 100%. Extrinsic motivation in tennis could be something like giving yourself a physical challenge (wearing ankle weights or a racket you aren't used to). Intrinsic motivation could be something like "I want to put all of my hits within 6 inches of the out-line", since it is a mental challenge you are placing on yourself.

It's important to have a balance, and it's also important to realize that you don't always have to be at 100%. It's okay to dip to 70% of your capacity. I play soccer, and I would say that the majority of playtime is not spent at 100% exertion - if it was, I would be gassed after a short period of time. The same applies to tennis, if you are playing at 100% exertion the entire time, you will be exhausted much more quickly. Finding balance is important.

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